A Malay folktale: The Princess of Mount Ophir

It was said that a beautiful fairy princess lived at the top of Gunung Ledang. She had been raised by a group of beings that were half-man and half-beast. Because she was a fairy princess, she never grew old. Her beauty was enhanced by the breezes that blew atop the mountain.

Many sultans sought her hand in marriage. Yet perhaps the mountain sought to preserve her purity, for no messenger ever reached the top of Gunung Ledang. And so, the princess spent her days on the mountain, dancing and singing in the cool air.

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Then came the reign of Sultan Mansur Shah. He sent three of his best warriors to find the princess. It was believed that the journey was so tenuous that only one of them managed to make his way to the princess’ home. There, he put forth Sultan Mansur Shah’s proposal.

The princess replied that she would marry the sultan if he was able to provide her with three items: seven vats containing women’s tears, seven trays of mosquito hearts and seven drops of his son’s blood.

Upon his return to the palace, the warrior conveyed the princess’ message. The sultan was crushed when he heard it. As he sat in his royal chambers, he lamented, “I can provide seven vats of women’s tears and even seven trays of mosquito hearts. But to prick my son for even one drop of his blood is impossible for me to bear!”

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And so, for many more years, the princess remained atop Gunung Ledang. It was believed that she eventually did find her true love, a fierce warrior named Nakhoda Ragam.

She moved down from the mountain to live with him. Her bliss was shattered one day when they were spending time together. He had tickled her so much that she accidentally stabbed him with a needle as she laughed uncontrollably.

After the incident, the princess returned to the mountain and never laid eyes on another man again. Soon after, Nakhoda Ragam’s boat was destroyed in a storm and the debris became the six islands off Malacca.

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An introduction to Chinese cuisine

To the Chinese, eating is a very important part of life. It is a social activity and helps to break the ice. In Chinese society, food is also a measure of success.

More than just eating, the Chinese also love to cook as it is seen as an art in itself. Chinese cuisine places emphasis on colour, aroma and flavour. Not only must a dish taste good, it must also appeal to the senses to be able to whet the appetite.

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Cooking methods

There are countless ways to cook the same ingredients, and each way of cooking imparts its own unique flavour to the food:

  • Steam
  • Boil
  • Double-boil
  • Stew
  • Poach
  • Braise
  • Stir-fry
  • Shallow-fry
  • Deep fry
  • … and many more!

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Eight main cuisines

  • Sichuan, with characteristic rich and spicy dishes like Gongbao diced chicken
  • Shandong, with dishes like Dezhou braised chicken
  • Suzhou, with its carefully presented steamed crucian carp
  • Guangdong, with distinctive sweet and crispy dishes like roast suckling pig
  • Fujian, famed for Buddha Jumps over the Wall
  • Zhejiang, which emphasises fresh food and natural flavours, particularly seafood
  • Huizhou, which favours delicacies from the land and sea
  • Hunan, which features rich foods with strong colours like cured meats

Now, tell us, which is your favourite?

 

The ongoing debate: Singapore’s hawker culture

Amidst the discussion concerning the place of Singapore’s hawker culture in UNESCO’s list, let us take a trip down memory lane and reminisce the beginning of it all.

Hawkers

Do you recognise any of the above hawkers? Can you name the food that each of them sold and the sounds that they made?

Not only did the smell of delicious food permeate the streets of Singapore, much din was made too: hawkers shouting to advertise their food, the highly-anticipated ringing of the ice-cream bell, the familiar “tok-tok” rhythm by the bamboo apparatus of the Tok Tok Mee man…

Many immigrants in 1900s Singapore relied on food hawkers on the streets for their daily meals. Besides famous dishes like braised duck, noodles and nasi lemak that are still rampant all over the country today, there were many other types of food sold that we no longer can find here.

These include…

Lok Lok

… Lok Lok…

Pig's Ear

… Pig’s Ear…

Grilled Squid

… grilled squid…

Crocodile

… and even crocodile meat!

Due to hygiene reasons, these cannot be sold the same way in Singapore anymore.

In addition, the clean and well-maintained hawker centres that you walk past every day are a far cry from what it used to be! Most of the hawkers in that day carried their stalls with them and set them up wherever there were customers.

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What do you remember from the hawkers in the past? Do you have similar stories to share?

Tell us more at our book launch tomorrow! Get your hands on our latest graphic novel, Once Upon A Singapore… Traders, where we show you the hawker culture that has made Singapore what it is today. Details: The Arts House, 10 November 2018, 2pm-3pm. Register here for free!

Get to know: Tina and Alan

With the nearing of our book launch for Once Upon A Singapore… Traders, we thought we’d speak to writer Tina Sim and illustrator Alan Bay, to understand a bit about their inspiration behind this publication and their book journey so far.

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So, first, what got you into writing / illustrating?

“I like to read and share what I have read,” Tina says. “I guess that started me scribbling.”

For Alan, it was video games and comic books. “I remember it all started when I was reading Dragon Ball Z back when I was younger, and when I decided to draw my own version in an exercise book.”

Nice. And what was your inspiration behind writing / illustrating for this new book?

Alan muses, “I wanted to create a lighthearted comic book based on Singapore’s rich history, to encourage the curiosity of readers on the topic.”

Tina adds, “I like to tell stories from my childhood and youth, and I am so fortunate to have Alan draw my memories into being.”

That’s awesome! Now, what do you think was the most memorable part of this book-making journey?

“Growing with Grandpa and Aloysius as the story developed,” says the writer. “Even though they started as mere characters on paper, as we went along, they developed a life of their own. The dialogue, the jokes and the banter just fell into place.”

“This was my first time collaborating with a writer and publisher, so it was a huge learning opportunity for me.” Alan chimes in. “As an artist, I had to constantly remind myself that my drawings were meant to complement the story instead of being a flamboyant showcase.”

Okay, last question: what do you hope this new publication will achieve?

“I hope readers young and old will enjoy this trip down memory lane,” says Tina.

“I also hope this book inspires those who have been through a time of old, like grandparents, to share their own first-hand experiences with the new generation,” Alan says.

Now that you know a bit more about these creative minds, why not drop by to shake hands and talk to them in person during the Singapore Writers Festival 2018?  They’ll be at The Arts House on 10 November 20182pm-3pm where they’ll be sharing all about this latest publication! Entry is free: register here!

P.S. Their comic book is now available for pre-order at our webstore!

Book Launch: Once Upon A Singapore… Traders

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Modern Singapore looks very different from Singapore one hundred years ago, almost as if the two are separate countries altogether! There are many people who used to do business on the streets whom we no longer see, such as the milkmen, the letter writers, the koyok men and more. This colourful graphic novel will bring you back to a time of old and show you the wonders of these trades. Follow Grandpa and Aloysius on their journey to the past and discover the interesting ways people used to make a living in 1900s Singapore. It’s a book for all to enjoy–children, parents and even grandparents!

About the author
Tina Sim Soek Tien writes and translates. She likes to write about what life used to be like in the old days—playing zero point, brushing teeth over the drain after recess, making lots of paper boats then hoping for rain… She hopes her stories capture some of the spirit—and happiness—of the old days. She enjoys translating because there is much in another’s world we can learn from, if we can only connect.

About the illustrator
Alan Bay draws comics, cartoons, and video games. He draws big monsters, pesky kids, magical dragons, and almost everything else under the sun. He hopes his art will bring you a smile and make your day a little better.

We’ll be holding a book launch for this exciting publication during the Singapore Writers Festival 2018. Don’t miss the opportunity to meet author Tina Sim and illustrator Alan Bay at The Arts House on 10 November 2018, 2pm-3pm! Entry is free: register here!

Behind the Scenes: A Collection of Artwork

We won’t deny it: we’re extremely excited to turn 35 this year–just take a look at how much we’ve been shouting about our anniversary on social media! Asiapac Books has come a long way, from being a book distributor, to a book publisher of translated editions, and now a leading comic publisher in Southeast Asia. We couldn’t be prouder.

Naturally, working with a number of veteran illustrators for the past three decades, we’ve accumulated a store of raw sketches and artwork that unfortunately have been hidden away for far too long. So, we’ve decided that our year-end anniversary exhibition would be the perfect time to launch Asiapac Archives, a collection of comic artwork gathered over the years.

But… we can’t wait to give you a sneak peek! Here are a few shots of iconic pieces done by our artists that we think you’ll love. For our loyal readers, we’re sure these illustrations will look very familiar!

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Original artwork by Jeffrey Seow for The Complete Analects of Confucius comic book series

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Original artwork by Wee Tian Beng for Return of the Condor Heroes

Over the next few weeks leading up to our exhibition, we’ll be uploading more of what’s happening behind the scenes in the Asiapac office on Facebook, so be sure to keep a lookout here: https://tinyurl.com/asiapacbts

Of course, photos don’t do these masterpieces justice. You’ll need to come down to our exhibition to observe the intricate details for yourself. We’ll be at the Level 8 Promenade of the National Library Building from 17 November 2018 to 9 December 2018, and we’re really looking forward to meeting you there!

Mid-Autumn Festival: The Tales Behind It

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Image: pxhere

You may know by now that the annual Mid-Autumn Festival is just around the corner, whether it be because you have noticed the colourful lanterns emerging around Singapore, or because you have been recently inundated with invitations to mooncake parties. One of the most important festivals in Chinese culture, Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated on the 15thday of the eighth lunar month – which falls, this year, on 24th September.

A colourful affair centred around the moon, Mid-Autumn Festival is popular with adults and kids alike: revellers get to tote brightly lit lanterns and feast on deliciously sweet mooncakes. The Festival in Singapore has inevitably evolved over the years, with electrical lanterns shaped as popular cartoon characters rivalling the more traditional paper versions, and more and more places offering modern takes on mooncakes – think ice cream mooncakes and flavours like durian and coffee!

But how much do you really know about the origins behind these traditions? Our Origins of Chinese Festivals takes readers back to the very beginning, retelling two central myths in comic form: The Story of Chang-e and The Story of Mooncakes.

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Image: Tsukioka Yoshitoshi via Wikimedia Commons

Chang-e was a heavenly being who was banished to earth with her husband, the archer Hou Yi. Buoyed by the admiration and worship of the humans, Hou Yi grew greedy and obtained the elixir of life from the Queen Mother of the West, planning to share it with Chang-e so that they could both dominate the human realm forever. Horrified by his vanity and pride, Chang-e drank the elixir by herself and gained the ability to fly to heaven.

Now alone – Hou Yi was soon slain by his treacherous disciple Feng Meng – Chang-e then flew to the moon with her pet rabbit to wallow in sorrow. To this day, kids try to find the shapes of Chang-e and her rabbit during Mid-Autumn Festival, when the moon is traditionally thought to be the brightest.

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Image: Mk2010 via Wikimedia Commons

The second tale in Origins of Chinese Festivals is of how mooncakes came to be. The end of the Song Dynasty saw the Mongols ruling China, and stationing a soldier in each local household to control the people. In retaliation, the locals baked secret messages inciting rebellion inside round cakes, which were then passed around the households and cut open. The messages organised a collective uprising one night, and the locals successfully regained their freedom.

The eating of these cakes became a tradition during the Mid-Autumn Festival, and eventually evolved to become the mooncakes of today. The sweet pastries are round to symbolise completeness and reunion, and are eaten by families in the spirit of sweet harmony.

Today, Mid-Autumn Festival has moved far from its origins to become a modernised affair. Gardens by the Bay, for instance, is staging a fantastical lantern display this year, while a Festive Bazaar can be found in Chinatown and a Moonfest at the Esplanade. Nevertheless, as families and friends come together every year in celebration, we see the values of harmony and reunion captured by Origins of Chinese Festivals continue to underlie the festivities.

A Gateway to Singapore

Singapore’s multicultural nature is one of our strongest points – we get to share knowledge, traditions and practices between a diverse range of people, making this a vibrant and dynamic place to live.

Our Culture Gateway series delves deeper into this, exploring the history and customs behind Singapore’s various communities. While individual books focus on a specific community, a good place to start is Gateway to Singapore Culture, which provides an overview of our country’s rich cultural tapestry.

The colourfully illustrated book devotes a section to each of the five main cultures in Singapore: Malay, Chinese, Indian, Eurasian and Peranakan. Find out more about yourself and your friends, from the origins and cuisine of each community, to their beliefs and famous individuals. There is so much history behind all of us who make up Singapore, and no better introduction to it than Gateway to Singapore Culture.

Living in a multicultural society is extremely rewarding, but we should also be aware of the ways that different people negotiate such an experience. At the root of racial concord is a deep appreciation and understanding of our different communities, and it is thus important that the book touches upon its subject. It is, ultimately, a celebration of friendship, peace and harmony.

To learn more about other cultures is to engage with them, and Gateway to Singapore Culture does so in a fun and accessible way. Simply pick up a copy of it to find out about the rich history that underlies Singapore today, and deepen your understanding of what it means to be a diverse community!

Reintroducing the Classics

We here at Asiapac are always trying to bring the classics to new audiences. While Journey to the WestRomance of the Three Kingdoms and Hua Mulan might already be familiar to many, our graphic novel versions will bring these tales to life in a whole new way. No one knows the power of comics more than us, and the visual element is put into full effect in these books’ retelling of history.

Our latest release Journey to the West is a re-coloured and edited version of our bestselling book by Chang Boon Kiat, so you will be able to enjoy an even more vivid telling of the epic tale. The monk Xuanzang embarks on a quest for the Buddhist sutras, alongside his disciples Sun Wukong, Sandy and Pigsy. The tale is rendered in stunning illustrations and dialogue, which perfectly capture the ambitious and lively spirit of the story itself.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a historical novel by Ming Dynasty writer Luo Guanzhong, and is based on the power struggle between the states of Wei, Shu and Wu after the decline of the Han dynasty. Together, the ten-volumes in the series unfold the exciting but turbulent period of Chinese history, with each volume dedicated to a specific battle or event.

Seasoned artist Li Chengli and writer Luo Guanzhong are at their most brilliant in this collaborative effort, with vivid dialogue perfectly complementing the action-filled illustrations. Characters will seem even more alive, and the conflict even more intense – you’re bound to find yourself swept along on this visual, historical adventure!

A classic tale is similarly reinvigorated in Hua Mulan: Legendary Woman Warrior. The story of the female warrior who disguised herself as a man to fight for family and country has long become familiar to us – we’re looking at you, Disney – but you’ll still find new thrills and sides to it in this graphic novel. Creators Xu Deyuan and Jiang Wei have reimagined Mulan’s story in their painstakingly written and illustrated book, so follow Mulan from her victories and feats in the army, to her eventual identity reveal at the end of the war.

We believe that the richness of Chinese classics deserves to be told again and again, and to be appreciated by every new generation that comes along. So regardless of whether you have never heard these stories before or if you are already well-versed in them, our graphic interpretations of Chinese classics should be next on your reading list!

Our Origins series

Our Origins series has long delighted and educated readers with its fun approach to Chinese history. Comprised of 16 titles in English and Mandarin, the series uses gorgeous illustrations and light-hearted comics to illuminate Chinese traditions, arts and sciences.

Origins of Chinese Festivals guides readers through some of the highlights of 5,000 years of Chinese history. Learn about how familiar festivals like Lunar New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival actually originated, and of the colourful myths and stories that lie behind their origins. Be captivated by age-old tales, like The Cowherd and the Weaving Girl, and The Story of Chang-e, which have been given new life in comic form.

You may know that the Chinese have long played an important role in the scientific and technological world, but did you know that the Chinese began making paper nearly two thousand years ago? Or that the first seismograph was invented in China in the second century?  What about how no nails are needed in Chinese architecture?

Origins of Chinese Science and Technology is another title in the series that explores the history behind some of today’s most familiar objects, and of the stunning span and breadth of Chinese history. If you were surprised by these questions, you’ll find much more in the book that will intrigue and excite.

 

These are just two examples of our iconic Origins series, with other topics ranging from Opera and Literature, to Sports and Music. Whilst ambitious and vastly informative, the books always seek to educate in a fun and accessible way – Chinese history and culture will never have felt more easy to understand and appreciate.

Pick up a title the next chance you get, and with your newfound knowledge, you’ll learn to see that delicious mooncake or dumpling as more than just a tasty snack!